Elevyn

Elevyn

Malaysia
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Elevyn is an online platform that connects artisans from indigenous and marginalized communities to buyers of handmade crafts all over the world.

The goal is to provide the artisans with direct access to a global market without the need for middle parties.

Operating on fair trade principles, artisans and their organizations receive between 50-75% off the selling price of each item.

About You
Organization:
Elevyn
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Section 1: About You
First Name

Mike

Last Name

Tee

Country

, KL

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

Organization Name

Elevyn

Organization Phone

+6012 323 1968

Organization Address

24, Jalan Sri Hartamas 12, 50480 Sri Hartamas

Organization Country

, KL

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, XX

Innovation
What makes your innovation unique?

Elevyn connects craft producers from poor, remote communities in South East Asia to consumers in wealthier countries, eg US & Europe.

We work closely with grassroots organizations to create an effective supply chain infrastructure, ensuring that online orders are responded to and delivered on time, even if the artisans are located in the most remote of areas.

This is achieved by providing NGOs, community organizers and the artisans themselves, direct access to manage the online shops, eBay style. They can upload product photos and list items via simple data entry, without the need for any programming or advanced computer knowledge.

Depending on the location and access to the Internet for the artisan groups, email orders either go directly to them, or an SMS is sent to their mobile phones.

Despite the obvious obstacles, Elevyn strives for professional delivery standards, ensuring that buyers get their orders read, responded to and delivered within a specific time frame (48 hours).

All artisans are profiled on the elevyn.com website which include their background and current income levels. Since each item sold contributes 50-75% of its selling price to the producer, buyers can see the immediate effect of their purchases on the artisans' livelihoods, down to the very last cent.

Over the long run, Elevyn will be able to measure very clearly, how many artisans have managed to increase their income levels through the sale of crafts.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

Launched in November 2008, Elevyn is now working with nearly 400 artisans and 9 field partners across Malaysia, Cambodia and Philippines.

Although online sales is not on a scalable phase yet, where we can support the livelihood of all the artisans, we've transferred some USD4,500 to the artisans so far - not from charity or donations but through hard work producing and selling of handmade crafts.

More importantly - as we work directly with the artisans in some groups, we realized that they have taken a new sense of pride in their craft, thanks to orders from buyers of developed countries in Japan, US and UK. They sometimes cannot believe that their handmade items are wanted by someone from the other side of the globe!

Additionally, feedback from buyers has been very useful in providing the artisans input on the design, color and product ideas that the market wants.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

For years, incredibly talented artisans across the globe have struggled to find
markets for their handmade products because they live in remote places. Incomes are small and stagnant as craftspeople have no recourse but to sell to the tourist trade or to international trading companies at exploitive prices, which then resell their goods with large markups.

Consumers pay a lot of money for the crafts, but very little of it actually go back to the artisans, which continue to mire in poverty.

In an extreme case, we found out that for a $100 craft sold in the city, as little as $1 made it back to the artisan.

With Elevyn, artisans now have a direct channel to buyers from the world over. More importantly, without the selling pressure from middlemen, artisans have the freedom to name a price that they feel is worth their time and effort to produce the craft.

Consumers, too, benefit by paying less for the items because it does away with all the associated middlemen costs - such as transportation, rent, markups, etc.

Additionally, as Elevyn embraces fair trade principles, audits are conducted to ensure that artisans not only get paid a fair price, but also their working conditions are appropriate, and the children do not get victimized by exploitative parties.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

There are several different models on how artisans / organizations currently sell on Elevyn.

They have the option of being a "passive producer", which means Elevyn provides all the services of photo-taking, data entry, enquiry handling and order fulfillment.

Artisans or organizations that are more knowledgeable in e-commerce set up and manage their own online stores. In this case, Elevyn's only role is monitoring and support to ensure transactions are processed smoothly.

Depending on the models above, Elevyn charges between 5-20% off each transaction. Additionally, Elevyn charges USD 0.10 for each quantity of item listed on the website.

On top of that, Elevyn also works with retailers on an offline model, where items are sourced from the artisans to be sold in malls, shops and hotels. Based on fair trade principles, Elevyn ensures that a minimum 50% of the selling price will go back to the artisans.

To ensure the project a success, Elevyn works hard to fine-tune its business model and to continuously improve the supply chain. This includes working with organizations and urban designers on product development, exposure trips for artisans, and experimenting with new revenue ideas.

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What might prevent that success?

1. If consumers are just not interested in the products - the sale will not happen. Hence, the need to gather market feedback and embark on product development - which is time and resource-intensive.

2. Elevyn's business model of making 5-20% of selling price require that large amounts of quantities being sold every month to be sustainable. With some artisans groups, due to the limitations of handmade items and raw materials, the supply just cannot be provided.

3. A lack of market expertise and know-how. The craft-buying market is a targeted niche, and market knowledge is required to be able to reach out to the buying group. Additionally, as the fair trade concept is still relatively unknown in many countries, market education is also needed. Hence, the need for more resources in terms of time, manpower and money.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Year 1 - 2

Market feedback will provide the team with a better understanding on what consumers want, in terms of products, color, design, functionality, etc.

It will also take time to educated the artisans, but we have already started work with an artisan group to produce an exclusive batch of designs, complete with its own branding, for the urban market. Our target is to work closely with the community groups and release limited but high quality products that will fetch a better value in the market.

Year 2 - 3

To work with retail channels who are able to sell the crafts in other cities and countries. This will be an offline channel, but it is important due to the nature of the handmade products market - unlike buying a t-shirt, consumers want to see, feel and touch the items before buying.

How many people will your project serve annually?

101‐1000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?

Yes

If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

A recognition on fair trade products, especially those produced by low income groups that need the support.

In Malaysia, the "fair trade" term is virtually unknown, and is commonly misunderstood as "free trade".

We seek to not only engage the public sector in terms of policies, but to educate the market on what it means to buy ethically.

Sustainability
What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?

Yes

Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

We form partnerships with 3 major segments - government, non-government and other businesses reaching out to the same markets.

Each of them allow us to reach out to different policy-makers, artisan communities and market access that would otherwise be impossible to do alone.

For instance, one of our latest working partnership is with the Non-Timber Forest Products (www.ntfp.org) based in the Philippines, but works with artisan groups all over South East Asia and India. Via the partnership, we are able to reach out to products and producers from these countries and eventually work with them on selling through Elevyn.com.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

The project was kick-started with an initial grant of MYR 150,000 from the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDEC) of Malaysia. The grant is aimed to encourage more technology-based startups.

Elevyn's business model works on a similar concept to eBay / Etsy, where every item is listed for sale at 10-cents. For every item sold, Elevyn takes a 5% commission, and a further 5% is allocated to a special "Cause Fund" which goes toward a local community project - buying books for the kids, for example.

Elevyn also acts as a go-between for bulk orders and custom products. In this case, Elevyn marks up the price between 10-40%.

At the end of the day, the pricing model is based strongly on fair trade principles, which ensures that at least 50% of the selling price go back to the artisans.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Prior to Elevyn, myself (Mike) and Devan were from IT, and we both run our own online companies. We had wanted to collaborate on a project that was "innovatively social" - but nothing concrete came about.

At the same time, a mutual friend, Sze Ning, was already actively involved with NGOs on indigenous issues in Malaysia, such as land rights. On one such trip to a village, she had a first-hand experience on the issue of poverty afflicting indigenous groups. Some of the hardcore poor were single mothers and the aged, who no longer have the capacity to work their farms.

Sze Ning was approached by some of the women to help them sell their craft in the city - and she felt lost. She has no idea how to sell, but yet she felt that something could be done.

Subsequently, she relayed her idea to us, and together, we founded Elevyn.com as a way to bridge the gap between artisans from remote indigenous communities, to a global market.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Devan Singaram started off in the tech scene during the volatile dot-com years of 2000. Following the bubble’s burst, Devan struck out on his own, excited by the innovations of internet technologies, searched for a balance between business models and a new approach to social work..

Mike Tee lives and breathes the web. A keen learner with a diverse range of interest, Mike loves the idea of social entrepreneurship, and in particular, how companies can utilize internet technologies for a greater cause.

Puah Sze Ning holds a passion for indigenous cultures, and has been working with various organizations on issues related to the indigenous peoples of Malaysia. Having personally witnessed the plight of some rural artisans embattled in poverty and helplessness during one of her field trips, Sze Ning saw Elevyn as a solution to empower the artisans.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Web Search (e.g., Google or Yahoo)

If through another source, please provide the information